Christie’s sale, “Designed by Architects: Important works by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and others” on November 6th, 2002, drew considerable interest as it was the first major sale of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (CRM) work from an international private collection.

Furniture in the sale was of real interest to The Friends of 78 given that several pieces of furniture were made from the designs that CRM had drawn up for Bassett-Lowke in 1917. What the catalogue also made clear was that “several pieces of furniture designed by Mackintosh for W.J.Bassett-Lowke were replicated or modified for his friends or business associates”, so the furniture, although designed for Bassett-Lowke, may not have been specifically intended for 78.

Design for a clock face for W.J. Bassett-Lowke. Charles Rennie Mackintosh. 1917.
Image: Christie’s

The committee of The Friends were especially drawn to lot 50, a design for a clock face that was made for 78. The pencil and watercolour design of the clock face showed the use of erinoid inlay in blue/green and white and with the figures painted in black on white erinoid. The clock itself is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia, USA. (The clock was at one time given by Bassett-Lowke to Tom Osborne Robinson). The hammer price for the design was £8,000 but with the auctioneer’s premium and VAT to add on it took the actual price up to virtually £10,000 and beyond the current finances of the Friends. There was also a copy of the clock on sale at Christie’s contemporary to the original but it failed to reach its estimated guide price of £300,000.

Present at the auction was antiques expert Eric Knowles fronting the i2i television series for the Discovery Channel that is recording the restoration of number 78. He commented on the unevenness of the sale prices being reached. As Friends might well imagine the highest price achieved was for a writing cabinet in ebonised mahogany that had been in Hill House, Helensburgh, with a hammer price of £920,000, although it had had a guide price estimate of up to £1,200,000. With auctioneers commission and VAT that price would be over one million pounds.

As a footnote, there was also towards the end of November the proposed sale of an illuminated manuscript of Virgil’s Aeneid by William Morris . The manuscript failed to attract any bids after being offered at £1.2 million. Lord Lloyd-Webber bought the manuscript, Morris’ attempt to revive the art, for £814,000 in 1989. The top guide estimate for this sale had been £1.5 million.

First published in December 2002 In The Friends of 78 Derngate Newsletter Issue 21.
Author: Rob Kendall
Transcribed 2018: Barbara Floyer

Addendum 2018
Further information may be found on the Christie’s website listing for this item.

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